The ads are striking: Handsome, smiling people, very much alive, victors over cancer — thanks to their choice of a prestigious cancer center for their treatment. But are they true?
The cancer centers — with brand names like Sloan-Kettering and Massachusetts General — cannot prove that the patients are alive because of something unique about their institutions. But they don’t have to prove anything, under the law. If a drug manufacturer wanted to make a similar claim, it would have to line up statistical evidence, and the ads would have to have a lot of disclaimers. The ads from the cancer centers have no such disclaimers, and little to no backup from statistics.
Natasha Singer has a thoughtful article in the New York Times exploring these ads and what patients who are looking for cancer treatment should do.
The marketing executives who craft these ads say they’re not even aimed at current patients — but are more “reputation advertising,” as one told the Times.
The article has a good sidebar that gives tips for how patients should shop for cancer treatment.
A regular community hospital can be fine for common cancers like colon, but for anything unusual, it’s best to look for a center that sees a lot of that condition.
The National Cancer Institute designates Comprehensive Cancer Centers for their scientific excellence and comprehensive approach. Here is a list from the NCI. Ironically, these are some of the same centers with the heavy advertising budgets.
In my book, “The Life You Save: Nine Steps for Finding the Best Medical Care — and Avoiding the Worst,” I discuss the importance of a multi-disciplinary approach where doctors from different specialties collaborate together on figuring the best line of attack to a particular patient’s cancer. Most advanced centers have “tumor boards,” where these collaborative discussions occur, usually at no extra charge to the patient.